Learning to become a flight instructor is about a lot more than flying and aeronautical knowledge… Getting up and taking command of a large group of people can definitely be scary to someone who has never done it before, or someone who does not feel confident in themselves in that situation. Luckily, before teaching multiple ground school classes, I had a solid amount of public speaking experience. The same professor, who encouraged me to try teaching ground school classes, also inspired me to become a walking tour guide for Bridgewater State University. The whole reason I became a tour guide, was to better my public speaking skills, because they needed work.
The first battle of teaching is conquering the fear of public speaking. If you don’t have a fear of public speaking, perfect! You can move to the next thing. If you do struggle with public speaking, it’s okay, because it is the number one fear among all fears. The best way to conquer your fear of feeling inconfident in front of a group of people is to practice public speaking first hand. There are different groups of people you can join to practice public speaking. One in particular is called “toastmasters”. They are an organization dedicated to helping others improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Check them out online if you ever get the opportunity. The only way to get through something you have a hard time with is to be brave.
Aside from building public speaking skills, teaching forces you to become an expert on the subject you are going to teach. What I found to be quite challenging about teaching, was lecturing on subjects I had never taught before, or was unfamiliar with. I learned that preparing for a classroom lecture that must be over an hour long is a time consuming process. I was asked to give a lecture on electricity and electrical systems for a private pilot ground school group. I did not know much about electricity, and found myself doing many hours of research on the subject before I could go teach it. However, even after hours of research on the subject, I still felt I had more to learn. Luckily, the opposite happens when you know the subject well. For cross-country flight planning, I spent about 5 minutes making a lesson plan.
Another lesson I learned from classroom teaching, is being interesting isn’t easy. To be able to draw attention from someone who is literally idle requires the energy of a madman. I learned it takes various tones of voices, volumes, and walking in different locations across the room. I also found it helpful to call on students who looked idle, and repeat concepts slowly until every student in the class at least looked like they were on the same page. Along with attracting the attention of a person whose pulse is in the single digits, being able to time the material of a classroom lecture is also quite the challenge. To be able to perfectly execute the timing of all the things you would like to say in an hour is like throwing a Frisbee through a basketball hoop 50 yards away. It is not easy to get to all information on your lesson plan. For this reason, teachers must speed up and slow down throughout the lecture to remain on task. This is something students will never notice with an experienced instructor.
If something ever goes wrong before you arrive in the classroom (like not having a whiteboard for example) teachers will be forced to improvise. When arriving at Mansfield airport I was greeted with a backwards facing classroom and a missing whiteboard. Luckily, with the help of Matt, we were able to readjust tables and chairs to face the correct direction. Also, Matt was kind enough to sacrifice himself as human a whiteboard holder while I drew and explained concepts on my knees to successfully reach the make shift desk/human whiteboard.
At Bridgewater, after teaching my systems class, I reserved 15 minutes at the end of the class to take a field trip to the ramp and show the students what parts I had just explained in the lecture. I felt it was a great way to get the students involved in what they had just seen. We even took the arrow’s cowling off and took a look at the engine. When I pointed to different parts of the engine and asked students what they were I was shocked and flattered to see they had actually learned a lot from my hour lecture. It was beyond rewarding to say the least.
Having the opportunity to teach in classroom settings has been a mind opening experience. I am very grateful and honored to have been able to get out and go teach full classes on my own. When the instructors let me teach their classes on my own, they were gambling the time of the lecture needing to be presented. My sincerest thanks goes out to them for letting me experiment being in their shoes. After trying teaching multiple times, I developed a great appreciation for my former teachers/ professors. Teaching is not easy. It really requires the judgment of a divine character. Having the will power to be an expert on a subject, while at the same time being sensitive to the learning processes of multiple students is quite the self-sacrifice. However, for someone who loves what they do it can be more than a rewarding experience, it can become a way of life. I am very grateful for the handful of opportunities I have gotten to teach, and look forward to doing it again in the future!
-Fly Safe, WSmithEWB
Editor’s Note: Earlier this month Billy earned his Commercial Pilot Certificate; congratulations again Billy and good luck with your CFI training. We all look forward to reading more about your experience learning to be the teacher here on ReviewBeforeFlight.